Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Winter's Day

Yesterday was just one of those days when the flight was interesting.

It was the usual Monday morning trip from Potomac Airfield (KVKX) to Bridgeport (KBDR). I got to the airport soon after 0700, opened N631S's hangar and got the pre-heat system plugged in. The temperature was 30F; I decided that 40 minutes of pre-heat was in order.

In due course I pulled the airplane out, put the car into the hangar, closed the hangar doors and started the big Continental engine. It was perfectly happy to turn over and run and I taxied to the fuel island to fill the tanks (which I'd skipped on Friday evening when I was anxious to be home). Park and shut down; set up ladder; attach grounding cable; insert fuel card in card reader; select fuel pump; start pump; pull out about 25 feet of hose; climb ladder; remove fuel cap; squeeze trigger. Nothing. Nada. No stream of fuel from the nozzle. The pump would not run continuously.

OK. Use colorful language; push airplane back so the other pump can reach it. Repeat much of the procedure above. This time 100LL emerges from the nozzle in a gratifying stream.

I went into the FBO office and left a note advising that Pump #2 was hors d'combat and called Mt. Vernon TRACON to collect my clearance. The weather at VKX was clear but the forecast was calling for scattered to broken clouds over Maryland, Delaware and southern New Jersey anywhere from 4,000 to 5,500 MSL. In the hope of avoiding those layers I'd filed for the Victor 1 (V1) airway at 7,000 feet.

It's been my experience that layers advertised as "scattered" or "broken" are usually not very thick, so about 2,000 feet above the bases will get you to "on top". With a layer described as "overcast" all bets are off.

What I got in my clearance was V16 with an initial altitude of 7,000 feet. This is where a little specific knowledge of ATC's quirks is very handy. If I get the V1 route I can stay at 7,000 as far as McGuire (AFB) Approach airspace, but if I am on the more westerly V16 I'll be forced down to 5,000 feet by Dover (AFB) Approach to avoid conflicting with KPHL arrivals.

There's no point in talking to Mt. Vernon about this. I accept the clearance with the plan of negotiating with Dover Approach to trade V16 for V1. Back outside, start up N631S, and take off. Wheels up time was 0824.

The climb to 7,000 feet put me nicely on top and in the sunshine. The outside air temperature at that altitude was a snappy 5F. All good. But I needed to think about the weather situation at the northern end of the route. KJFK was reporting light snow (see the blue radar returns on the FlightAware.com screen-shot above). The airports surrounding New York were reporting broken to overcast cloud decks from 3,500 to 5,500 feet. And that was a potential problem because...

On the route I was flying it is customary upon reaching the Coyle VOR (CYN) to have McGuire Approach say, "November 31 Sierra, descend and maintain 5,000 feet." They seem to have an agreement with New York Approach to feed them northbound traffic at that altitude. And, if McGuire brought me down to 5,000 I would probably be in the thick of the cloud cover in the New York Class B airspace with a pretty high probability of ice accumulation.

So when Atlantic City Approach told me to contact McGuire, I checked in with, "McGuire Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra, level 7,000 with a request."

"November 631 Sierra, McGuire altimeter 29.62, what is you're request."

"You need to descend me to 5,000 somewhere around Coyle, but that altitude will put me into the cloud layer over New York. Could you ask them if I could cross the Class Bravo at 7,000 for icing avoidance."

"November 631 Sierra, it's on request." I'd never seen that work before; but I never asked that way before.

And, a few minutes later I got, "November 631 Sierra, you can plan on 7,000." Yes! Have I mentioned that I really like ATC?

As N631S and I approached the southern border of New York Approach airspace the heaviest cloud coverage was just south of the outer bay. It looked a little better crossing Long Island, and Bridgeport wasn't bad at all. Here are some of the relevant METAR's, arranged from south to north:

KMJX 061435Z AUTO 29016G25KT 10SM FEW050 SCT060 OVC075 01/M09 A2961 RMK AO1
KBLM 061435Z AUTO 28015G24KT 10SM BKN048 OVC055 00/M11 A2960 RMK AO1
KJFK 061451Z 28023G29KT 8SM -SN SCT029 BKN038 BKN048 BKN250 01/M07 A2955 RMK AO2 PK WND 27029/1449 SNE1356B33 SLP006 P0000 60000 T00061067 58011 $
KBDR 061452Z 29017G24KT 10SM FEW035 SCT110 M01/M09 A2948 RMK AO2 SLP982 T10061089 58015
MJX is Miller Airpark in Toms River, NJ, well south of New York. They were reporting few clouds at 5,000, scattered at 6,000 and overcast at 7,500 - really fairly nice. BLM (Belmar/Monmouth County), within New York Approach airspace, was a different story with broken to overcast layers from 4,800 to 5,500. As I passed over KBLM, N631S was in and out of the tops at 7,000 - never long enough for any ice to accrete. In fact, at 5F it may well be too cold for ice to adhere to the airframe.

JFK had light snow and scattered to broken layers at 2,900, 3,800, 4,800 and way up at 25,000 feet. At 7,000 feet I was in the clear. As N631S and I crossed Kennedy and made the north-eastward turn toward Bridgeport they asked me to descend to 5,000. Ahead I could see that the clouds were opening up so I didn't feel concerned. I had some light turbulence in the descent but no ice.

Before I got down to 5,000 feet Approach issued a descent to 3,000 and that got me under all of the cloud layers. The flight across a very churned up Long Island Sound was bumpy but brief and the wind at KBDR was 17 knots gusting to 24, right down the middle of Runway 29. N631S and I were on the ground at 1033.


== T.J.== said...

Finessing ATC is part science and part art ... You seem to have mastered the NY airspace ... Nicely done!

Frank Van Haste said...

Thanks, T.J. Science or art, I think of it as a tango. It takes two, and when both are competent it looks good.

Thanks for reading. Fly safe(ly)!